Report: Texas ranks 12th in education freedom

By Bethany Blankley

Texas ranks 12th for education freedom, according to a new report by the Heritage Foundation.

The report card measured four broad categories of School Choice, Transparency, Regulatory Freedom, and Spending. Within these categories, it also evaluated 24 subsets. Its stated goal is to inform parents and policymakers about successes and areas in need of improvement and reform.

Texas ranks sixth in regulatory freedom, 11th in transparency, 16th in return on investment for its spending, and 35th for school choice.

When it comes to regulatory freedom, Texas ranks sixth because 54% of its teachers “made their way to the classroom through alternative certification routes, bypassing traditional university-based colleges of education” and because schools don’t use Common Core–aligned tests, among other factors.

Two drawbacks the analysis notes is that unlike Florida, Texas doesn’t have full reciprocity of teacher licensure with other states and approximately 16% of school districts with more than 15,000 students employ a “chief diversity officer.”

Texas can improve its regulatory freedom ranking by allowing full reciprocity of teacher licensure or by eliminating teacher certification requirements altogether, the foundation recommends.

When it comes to transparency, Texas ranks 11th because its lawmakers proposed that certain content be taught in K–12 classrooms, including the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, among other founding principles. However, the foundation suggests that the proposal needs to be more specific and should reject educators’ application of so-called Critical Race Theory in K–12 classrooms. State officials should also make academic content more transparent to parents and taxpayers, the report suggests.

When it comes to spending, Texas ranks 16th overall for its return on investment for the amount of money it spends per student on public education. Texas currently spends the 42nd most per pupil among 50 states and the District of Columbia at $12,602 in cost-of-living-adjusted terms annually. It’s also tied for 32nd for its combined fourth-grade and eighth-grade math and reading average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores. Texas public schools also employ less than one teacher for every one non-teacher employed and the state’s unfunded teacher pension liability represents 5.5% of the state’s GDP.

Texas can improve the return on its investment by improving its students’ NAEP scores, limiting growth of its non-teaching staff, and addressing its unfunded teacher pension liabilities.

When it comes to school choice, Texas ranks in the bottom third. While Texas does allow parents to choose among charter schools and respects homeschool autonomy, it would better serve parents if it established K–12 education savings accounts, made it easier for more charter schools to open and operate, and gave families more choices among traditional public schools, the report suggests.

Florida ranked first for education freedom, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia, Montana, Louisiana and Tennessee.

The District of Columbia ranked last for education freedom, followed by New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska, Rhode Island, Washington and Illinois.

Those in the bottom have done “very little to provide transparency, accountability, and choice to families,” the report states.

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